Bacco Osteria e Espresso is the first Sydney CBD location from restaurateur Andrew Cibej (the brains that brought us other Italian heavyweights such as Vini, Berta and 121BC). But it’s not Cibej that you’ll find in the Bacco kitchen, however, but Scott Williams, formerly of MoVida Sydney.
At the Ash Street site, which opened in May, Williams extrudes tagliatelle to go with house-made guanciale, cuttlefish and broad beans, say, and braises the shins of rare English Longhorn beef for strozzapreti. But the gnocchi (which is really more a gnocchetti), he says, is the most popular pasta on the menu. “One in three people order it,” says Williams. “My biggest regret is making the pillows so bloody small.”
The pasta, an original recipe from Nonna Cibej’s family in the north, is folded into a simple sauce that pays tribute to Italy’s south: brown butter with sheep’s milk cheese, and roasted pistachio nuts “for some ripper crunch” and beautiful colour. To finish, the light thumbnail sized cushions are layered with Pecorino Romano and plenty of pepper. “The sharpness of the cheese and pepper cut through all that potato, butter and richness.”
The pasta, an original recipe from Nonna Cibej’s family in the north, is folded into a simple sauce that pays tribute to Italy’s south: brown butter with sheep’s milk cheese, and roasted pistachio nuts “for some ripper crunch” and beautiful colour.
As for what makes good gnocchi? A soft touch, he says. “You don’t want the dough to be overworked. Everyone has had chewy gnocchi in a bad Italian restaurant. But let’s be real: no one has time to eat heavy stodgy shit when you could be eating beautiful fresh pasta.”
“I ate a pasta with a similar sauce when we were in Sicily last year (also the home of pistachios),” says Williams. “We were in Taormina for a mate’s wedding and I was blown away by how delicious it was.”
Williams suggests the gnocchi as primi at your next long weekend lunch. “It’s fun to make, and you don’t have to do massive portions for people,” he says. “Have a small plate of gnocchi, then go onto the lamb shoulder you’ve had in the oven overnight, and another glass of chardonnay.”
Serves 4 as main course or 6-8 as primi
800gm potatoes (such as Desiree or royal blue), scrubbed
100gm (⅔ cup) “00” flour, plus extra for dusting
50gm finely grated Pecorino Romano, plus extra to serve
Brown butter, Pecorino Romano and pistachio sauce
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup hot chicken stock (homemade or a quality store bought stock is fine)
Pecorino Romano, to taste
4 tbsp pistachio nuts (toasted at 160degrees for 10 minutes, roughly chopped)
To make the gnocchi:
Boil potatoes from a cold start in a saucepan of salted water until easily pierced but not falling apart (15-25 minutes). Drain and peel with a small knife while potatoes are still hot.
Press the peeled potatoes through a potato ricer straight onto the bench. A Moulis won’t cut it as it works the potato starch too much, and will result in a chewy gnocchi.
Try to rice the potato over a large area; making sure the potato is in one layer to allow the steam to escape. If you rice it into a big pile, the steam will have nowhere to go and create wet and heavy gnocchi dough.
Season the riced potato with salt and white pepper, sprinkle on the Pecorino Romano and crack your egg into the middle.
Using a pastry scraper, and before adding the flour, roughly chop all the ingredients into the potato to distribute the egg.
Then, using a sieve, sprinkle the flour evenly over your dough and again, chop the dough together. (Note: as tempting as it is to get your hands or a spoon in the potato, make sure to only chop the mix with your scraper, as it won’t work the potato and gluten in the flour.)
Bring the mix together to form a thick log, cover with a tea towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
Using your scraper again, cut the log into eight pieces of roughly the same size.
With lightly floured hands, take the first piece of dough and gently roll it into a log as thin as your index finger. You need a soft, light touch here so as not to work the dough and create chewy gnocchi. If the gnocchi log is sticking to your hands or the bench, dust with some more flour. Repeat with the remaining pieces and heavily dust with flour.
Using a lightly floured scraper or knife, cut the logs into 1.5cm pieces. Repeat with the remaining logs and dust with flour.
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and then drop to medium heat until the water is just ticking over. Working in batches (about a third at a time), poach off the gnocchi.
Wait until the gnocchi float to the surface (4-5 minutes), and then wait roughly 30 seconds before removing gnocchi with a slotted spoon. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and toss so they don’t stick together. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi.
If you are making the gnocchi ahead of time or aren’t planning on eating the whole batch in one sitting, after the boiling process, refresh the gnocchi in iced water before they go into the oiled bowl. This is an ideal move if you are entertaining and want a flour free kitchen when your guests arrive.
Once all the gnocchi is poached, place two large non-stick pans over medium to high heat. Add half the butter into each pan. Cook until foaming and nut brown (2-3 minutes).
Add your gnocchi in batches. Allow to colour and gently toss. When the gnocchi is golden, add half the stock to each pan and gently shake. The butter and stock should come together to make the sauce, thickened naturally by the starch from the flour and potatoes.
Season with sea salt and gently spoon the gnocchi and sauce onto four or six plates, depending whether it’s a primo or secondo. Crack fresh black pepper over each plate and finish with a more than generous grating of Pecorino Romano and a sprinkle of pistachios.
See more from Scott & Bacco Osteria here.